New Innovation Center Uses Technology to Advance Supply Chain Management

New Innovation Center Uses Technology to Advance Supply Chain Management

When industry and academia team up, benefits abound. Consider a new collaborative effort between J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., a transportation services company based in Lowell, Ark., and the University of Arkansas to advance supply chain management efficiency through technology.

J.B. Hunt is investing $2.75 million in the University of Arkansas to create the J.B. Hunt Innovation Center of Excellence, a joint effort between the company, the College of Engineering and the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

The center will enable engineering, computer science, and business researchers and students to work with J.B. Hunt employees in finding solutions to real-world problems through innovative design and technology-driven supply chain solutions.

"The J.B. Hunt Innovation Center of Excellence will allow us to pursue revolutionary ideas in supply chain technology that can have a game-changing impact on the industry," says Stuart Scott, chief information officer at J.B. Hunt. "The innovative ideas that will shape our industry’s future are with the students of today."

As a graduate of the Walton College, Shelley Simpson, chief marketing officer and president of integrated capacity solutions and truckload at J.B. Hunt, has seen firsthand how the university’s programs and research have been beneficial to the company.

"As our industry evolves, customers need more intelligent supply chain solutions to meet market demand," says Simpson. "This collaboration is an investment in the future of J.B. Hunt and our ability to deliver customer value."

To learn more about this unique partnership, Inbound Logistics spoke with Tracy Black, senior vice president of information technology at J.B. Hunt.

IL: What motivated J.B. Hunt to partner with the University of Arkansas?

TB: J.B. Hunt has a long-standing relationship with the University of Arkansas. We’ve collaborated on projects in the past and had great success. J.B. Hunt University, for example, pairs students with supply chain partners to help improve their business operations and develop innovative solutions to solve the most pressing industry challenges.

The University of Arkansas has some of the most talented students in the country studying transportation and logistics. The Sam M. Walton College of Business is ranked 26th among public undergraduate business schools, its supply chain management specialty is ranked in the Top 15, and the university’s department of industrial engineering recently moved up to 32.

Many of our J.B. Hunt professionals and engineers, including some of our executive leadership team, are graduates of the University of Arkansas, so we know the quality of talent the college produces.

IL: Besides the obvious impact on the university and J.B. Hunt, what are the broader ramifications? Do you see this trend of private companies partnering with academia continuing?

TB: It’s typical for private businesses in this industry to partner with universities and study one particular field, but J.B. Hunt is pioneering this approach of broader collaboration across multiple disciplines and colleges. This trend will undoubtedly continue as technology’s influence on the supply chain becomes greater.

We can no longer think in a silo; to remain a leader in this industry, we need to collaborate across business and engineering fields and the multiple disciplines within each, such as finance, supply chain, data analytics, mathematics, industrial engineering, and computer science.

IL: We hear an awful lot about a talent gap in our industry. How will this collaboration address that issue?

TB: Talent availability is a big challenge affecting our industry. In general, businesses are realizing the growing impact logistics has on customers, and they are looking for creative solutions.

The Innovation Center will focus on projects that contribute to automating and providing intelligence into our logistics system. This will give students a chance to gain broader understanding of overall supply chain challenges and equip them for entering the workforce.